Bingo terminals skirt federal treaties that limits tribes to one casino -

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Anestis Polizos, owner of Alexander's Off Track Betting Sports Bar, hopes a Grand Ronde development won't draw too many customers away from his businesses. In Oregon, slot machines are found in two types of places.

The first are bars and restaurants, which are limited to six terminals run through the Oregon Lottery, and the second are tribal-operated casinos.

But through changes visible only to their programmers, private lottery manufacturers have created slot machines that don’t qualify as casino-class games, but look and feel extremely similar.

“From the player’s perspective, it looks just like a regular slot machine, like you would find in Vegas or any Class-III casino,” explained author and lottery lecturer Henry Tamburin, who has written extensively on the subject.

They’re called bingo terminals, and at least one tribe has already built a gaming facility premised on these games in Florence, Ore. Another is on the way elsewhere in the state.

No, not the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde. A spokeswoman says the tribe simply does not know what their plans are for the former Multnomah Greyhound Park site in Wood Village.

“They haven’t made any decisions in terms of what kinds of gaming they may have on site,” said Nancy Hamilton, a PR consultant working for the tribe. “They will have legal gaming … probably within the confines of the hotel.”

The Coquille Indian Tribe’s plans for a gaming venue in Medford, however, suggest a plausible scenario for what the Grand Ronde is calling Spirit Mountain at Wood Village.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Oregon Lottery Scratch-Its are sold by the state. Lottery income is the second-largest revenue source for the state, after tax payments.Compacts and treaties

First, some backstory.

Regular readers of The Outlook already know that tribal casinos are ruled by treaties between the tribe and the state and federal governments, not a specific Oregon law or policy.

The Grand Ronde’s agreement (which is formally known as a “compact”) waives the tribe’s right to operate a second casino. The tribe could renegotiate, but any amendments would first need approval from the governor’s office and National Indian Gaming Commission, a federal agency.

Certain activities, which the state calls Class-III gaming, are only allowed in casinos. This includes house-banked card games like poker, blackjack and craps, as well as roulette.

Slot machines are limited to Class-III casinos too, though the creation of publicly owned lottery terminals has made them a commonplace sight in bars and pubs across the state.

But other forms of gambling, like playing bingo for money, fall into a less-regulated category called Class-II gaming. The Grand Ronde’s treaty has this to say on the subject:

“Nothing in this Compact shall be deemed to affect the operation by the Tribe of any Class II gaming (facility).”

A spokeswoman for the Oregon Lottery says the agency has no official opinion on bingo terminals or the casino-esque halls that house them.

“Gaming center … is a legal terminology, and they use Class-II terminals,” Lottery Communications Manager Joanie Stevens-Schwenger said. “(Bingo terminals) look the same as a regular one, but for a tribe it does not require them to have a compact.”

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - This is an Oregon Lottery video poker terminal at the Jackpot Bistro in Gresham. Bingo terminals have the same general shape and feel.Mystery card

So what does a bingo terminal look like? Don’t expect a spinning drum filled with numbered balls or a paper-and-pen playing card.

Instead, the screen usually shows spinning reels or playing cards, just like a regular Oregon Lottery video terminal. A winning player might see four four-leaf clovers all lined up in a row, or be dealt a hand with four kings.

“It would display down (on the screen) like a traditional slot machine,” said Sar Richards, an associate video product manager for the Oregon Lottery. “Really, the reels are there just to make it look like a slot machine.”

That doesn’t mean that the two products are exactly alike. First, unlike a state-run video poker machine, bingo terminals need at least two users playing on separate machines at the same time before the game can begin. This requires no interaction; the players only need to be playing on the same computer server.

The second difference is that bingo terminals show a small bingo card in the upper corner. One bet on the machine is translated into an entire round of bingo on the server.

“The machine isn’t going B7, L19 (once per turn). It’s going to be doing that in a number of milliseconds,” explained Richards. “It’s actually running it through an entire bingo game … except you didn’t actually do any work besides push play.”

Tamburin, who makes his living by teaching others how to be smarter gamblers, has a personal gripe with bingo terminals.

When you play Class-III video poker on an Oregon Lottery machine, the law states that the odds of drawing any virtual card have to be the same as they would be for a physical 52-card deck.

But while some bingo terminals use playing cards to remind players of the Class-III slot machines they’re used to, the odds on bingo terminals have no relation to the rules of the card game.

“You don’t know what the odds are on that machine. You have no idea,” Tamburin said. “There’s a very small bingo card, which most players don’t even know what it is or why it’s there.”

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - A patron watches live  sports broadcasts from across the country at Alexander's Off Track Betting Sports Lounge, 1712 N.E. Fairview Ave.Guessing game

For now, all of this is speculation. The Grand Ronde has neither confirmed nor disavowed the idea that bingo terminals will be a part of their redevelopment project.

But for a small business owner like Anestis Polizos, it’s no idle guessing game. As the owner and manager of Alexander’s Off Track Betting Sports Lounge at 1712 N.E. Fairview Ave., Polizos would face direct competition from a gambling-focused resort less than a half mile away.

“Basically, within a 10-mile radius of the facility, it’s really just going to suck a lot of air out of the room for all the other Lottery retailers,” he said. “It’s a tribal matter. Whether I like it or don’t, it’s essentially out of my hands. And the (Oregon residents’) hands too.”

Polizos says he will try to reinvest in his property to attract more tourists and travelers. But besides resurfacing the parking lot or upgrading the upholstery, there’s not much he can do.

The bar already has the maximum number of Oregon Lottery video terminals, and offers live streams of horse and dog racing too.

The horse races are broadcast via a license with Portland Meadows. He wonders how a Grand Ronde development might affect those races.

“Portland Meadows is not entirely profitable. If this casino were to open up, what would be the plan for Portland Meadows?” he asked.

Ultimately, he sees the Grand Ronde as establishing a precedent.

“How many casinos do we want to have? Do we want to have as many casinos as possible? And if we do, we should open it up to non-tribal.”

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